new icn messageflickr-free-ic3d pan white
Maasai Music | by Ben Heine
Back to photostream

Maasai Music

© Ben Heine || Facebook || Twitter ||



A picture I took in Kenya in 2006.



For more information about my art:



The Maasai tribes are located in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya and Tanzania. The area they inhabit is approximately 100,000 square miles and is sometimes referred to as Maasailand. Essentially there are twelve geographic sectors of the tribe, each one having its own customs, appearance, leadership and even dialects. These subdivisions are known as the: Keekonyokie, Damat, Purko, Wuasinkishu, Siria, Laitayiok, Loitai, Kisonko, Matapato, Dalalekutuk, Loodokolani and Kaputiei. The native language of the Maasai is Maa. Maa is a language that derives from the Nile region. Maasai literally translates into ‘one who speaks the Maa language.’ The Maasai practice pastoralism and rely greatly on their livestock. This nomadic tribe herds various types of livestock that range from sheep to goats and donkeys to cattle. When traveling the Maasai women create temporary dwellings called kralls. Kralls are constructed from small clusters of cow-dung and mud. The combonation of mud, dung, and sun allows the mixture to harden and create durable temporary structures while the land is grazed. The houses are strategically placed in order to protect livestock from carnivores. The Maasai diet comprises primarily of meat and milk, however it is forbidden to mix the two. The Maasai create a drink made from milk and blood which is created by puncturing the loose flesh on the cow's neck with an arrow. The wound is closed after the correct amount of blood is obtained. This monthly operation does not have hazardous effects on the cow. A variety of corn, sorghum, and other grains are also incorporated into the Maasai lifestyle. The Maasai will not eat wild animals because it is seen as barbaric, and they also choose not to farm.




75% of the Maasai population devote their faith to traditional worship of Enkai, the other 25% practice Christianity. Laibons are the religious leaders in the Enkai faith. Other members in the tribe in control of power are the Chiefs who hold political power and the Elders who resolve local disputes. A main article of Maasai clothing is a wrap, the women's wraps are called kanga and the men's are called kikoi. The tribe usually incorporates some form of red in to their attire. Some believe that red is a special color to them because the tribe traditionally created the color for their shields by mixing the clay with the red sap of the solanum campylae fruit or cattle blood. The Maasai’s red clothing is also believed to stand for power. The men color their hair red with clay and red ocher which is a pigment found in natural form in volcanic regions. Cattle are the root of the Maasai culture. Cattle are a symbol of wealth as well as a source of pride. A main responsibility of the tribe is to care for the herd. Their everyday duties may involve grazing the cattle, protecting the cattle from carnivorous animals, as well as seeking fresh pasture land and water for the herd. The Maasai believe that God gave them cattle to care for. The Maasai class is determined by the number of cows owned by the family. Recently, the Maasai have had trouble maintaining their pastoral lifestyle because of the privatization of land and programs instituted by the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments.




Music of the Maasai is purely instrumental with the exception of the Eunoto ceremony where a kudu horn is incorporated. The music is based on a call and response format involving the guttural polyrhythms of the warriors and the participation of the community. Most ceremonies are around the season of the rains in which passages of life such as circumcision and marriage take place. The performances are in public where women can join off to the side. Rarely are women allowed in to the Morani dance. If it is allowed it can be a way for the Morani to flirt.


The format of the ceremonies include the Morani standing in a circle or a line performing the adumu or aigis, meaning “to jump”. The Morani dance includes warriors jumping solo as high as possible in front of the tribe. Simultaneously others are swaying their bodies back and forth. As soon as a warrior tires, typically after one or two leaps, another warrior takes his place. Another common movement in Morani dance involves the neck. Neck movements differ during the ceremony while jumping, dancing, sitting or standing. The head position relies on the whether the singer is breathing in or out. When breathing out the head is leaned forward and when breathing in the head is tilted back. The music incorporated consists of a deep rhythm created by grunts. Everyone involved has a part that has allowance for ornamentation. Members of the group may raise the pitch of their voices based on the height of the jump.


Music structure


An olaranyani is a song leader that starts each song with a namba. Nambas form the beginning of the song through the means of an olaranyani singing a line or the title of the song. The other members of the ceremony then respond in recognition to the olaranyani. Several singers may lead a song; each singer will start his or her verse with a namba. The songs lyrics usually follow a theme and commonly are repeated throughout the song. Women ceremonial song is normally sung in a call-and-response pattern. Women are not likely to include throat singing in their music. Most of the females’ songs are homophonic melodies that are used as lullabies and milking songs. Typically the singer responds to their own verses and repetition of phrases is common.




The Morani are the great protectors of the Maasai community. These warriors are known for being brave and proud. When the Maasai are young men, around the age of 15, they learn to become Morani. They are not allowed to travel or eat alone in hope to teach them to work as a group. The young Morani hunt lions as a way of proving themselves brave warriors. These warriors are recognized by their painted faces as well as their headdresses which are made out of feathers and wood. In order to increase their braveness the warriors drink a special narcotic made from the bark of the thorny olkiloriti tree. Within the Morani are two groups, seniors and juniors. Junior warriors are called Ilkiliyani. They are recognized by the handles on their wooden handled spears and by their short hair. Their hair is short because warriors will have their heads ceremoniously shaved following the circumcision ceremony into manhood. Following the ceremony the warriors let their hair grow long. Many hours are spent by warriors braiding each others’ hair. The long hair style is designated only for warriors in the tribe. Senior warriors are called Ilingeetiani. They are recognized by their ebony handled spears and long braided hair.Warriors that spear a lion early in their training are the most respected. They then wear the lion’s mane as a head piece in some ceremonies to exhibit their bravery.


Body art


Young men cover their bodies in ocher to enhance their appearance. Also warriors spend ample time completing ornate hairstyles. Young men can also be seen scaring their bodies with heated spears in order to show bravery. Beadwork is often important in Maasai body ornamentation. Complex bead patterns cover discs that hang around their necks. The patterns may be used to determine an age set or hierarchy in the tribe. Typically woman and young girls partake in the beadwork. (Article's source :

97 faves
Taken on October 18, 2010